Here is an interesting article by Gary Nunn for the Guardian.
It was my French flatmate who alerted me to the clunkiness of British idioms. She taught me tenir la chandelle – the eloquently captured French idiom for the third wheel on a date. The image of a third person holding up a candle while two lovebirds enjoy a dimly lit dinner is perfectly rational. You can imagine Miranda Hart doing it for Carla Bruni and Nicolas Sarkozy.
The English equivalent – playing gooseberry – is frumpy and seemingly obscure. The etymology is less allegorical here: the “gooseberry” is the unwanted guest; it was once synonymous with the devil, or a bored chaperone idly picking bitter fruit while two lovers sneak off to expose a daring bit of ankle to one another in a nook of the orchard.
Said French roomie fell victim to my idiomatic mischief making. She was still learning metaphorical phrases when The Inbetweeners was on TV. After some drinks, I told her the outrageously crude phrase used by the randy teenage boys in the series – “frothing at the gash” – meant you were starving. I came unstuck weeks later when, in front of mutual friends waiting for dinner to be served, she remarked: “I am so ‘ungry, I am – ‘ow you say? – frothing at my gash!”
No wonder, then, that in a recent book exploring the quirky world of international idioms the French ones are the best. Idiomantics, by Philip Gooden and Peter Lewis, lists each peculiar idiom by thematic category alongside its host country. They range from bonkers to richly evocative. A fine example of the latter is avoir un coeur d’artichaut – to have the heart of an artichoke. It means to be fickle in love – as the artichoke heart has several layers.
Read the whole article by Gary Nunn on the Guardian’s website: